Let’s keep equality on the agenda during COVID-19

By Megan Motto|27 August 2020
Megan Motto

From the virtual boardroom to the home office, gender issues cannot be sidelined as the global pandemic continues, writes Megan Motto.

While the headlines remain dominated by the pandemic and its far-reaching fallout, Equal Pay Day on 28 August is an important reminder that other key issues also require our attention. 

With the national gender pay gap standing at 14 per cent, boosting equality and diversity in our workplaces is clearly one of these key issues. 

The federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) reported that while the national gender pay gap remained stable this year, women must still work an average of 59 more days to earn the same amount as men. 

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There have also been several reports about how women are carrying the heavier load in the home during the pandemic, particularly during homeschooling, and there are fears about the long-term impact: “The COVID 19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and could affect women’s long-term economic security and rates of workforce participation,” WGEA says. 

Boosting board equality  

There have been some positive workplace diversity trends recently as highlighted in this year’s Board Diversity Index, released by Watermark Search International and Governance Institute. 

The survey of 296 ASX companies found that 561 of the 2,004 board seats on the ASX 300 are now filled by women (28 more than last year) and this has been accompanied by a rise in the number of boards that have 50 per cent or more women on their board. The number of boards being chaired by women grew for the third year in a row.    

However, there is a worrying trend of diversity dropping among those companies new to the ASX – of their 156 board seats, only 24 of those were filled by women. 

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With diversity and equality better for both society and business, there’s really no excuse not to be pursuing greater workplace equality. 

Great work in this area is being carried out by groups including Women on Boards, who we were pleased to recently form an alliance with. 

Be part of the change  

So how can we help ensure workplace equality measures do not slip during a global crisis? These efforts will help: 

  • Conduct regular analysis and reviews of pay rates at your organisation. Crunch the numbers and ensure you are paying fairly and in accordance with the role – not gender.  
  • Check that you have up-to-date and real-world impact policies covering gender equality, workplace flexibility and diversity. And ensure these are of assistance to males and females. If dads are supported by their workplace, this is likely to help all members of the family unit. 
  • Leaders role modelling flexible work and work/life balance habits helps bring policies to life and sets the tone from the top. Demonstrate that it’s about working effectively – not continuously. 
  • Learn from the pandemic. COVID-19 has proved that we can work efficiently and effectively without being present in a CBD office five days a week. Consider ways that we can retain this flexibility going forward to best help all members of the workforce. 

It’s important to continue the conversations on equality and diversity, particularly during these difficult times when the old entrenched gender divides seem in danger of being resurrected.

Megan Motto is the CEO of Governance Institute of Australia.

Let’s keep equality on the agenda during COVID-19
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